Skills gap in smaller companies holds Canada back

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It’s no surprise that Canada is facing a serious skills gap that is affecting a range of industries and areas, but new research shows the country’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the keystone of employment.

As part of its ongoing skills initiative the Canadian Chamber of Commerce held a symposium on Skills and Small Business held in November last year, and this week issued a report into their findings. The organization found that Canadian companies were investing 36% less into training employees than their American counterparts, and the amount spent on training has dropped by more than a third (38%) over the last 20 years.

Statistics Canada estimated  that 55% of the differences in economic growth between OECD countries can be explained by differences in the average skill levels between countries, and with SMEs making up half of the employment in the private sector, their training and upskilling challenges require attention.

"SMEs are the backbone of communities all across Canada; however, it's not easy for them to organize and finance training of existing employees," said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. "The great challenge for government, and for us at the Canadian Chamber, is to decide how to help SMEs take on this important task.”

At the symposium, DataAngel’s Scott Murray said it would cost $29.34 billion to bring all adults up to the literacy level needed to compete in the global market. The annual return on this investment in people is estimated at $86.8 billion, or $3,244 per worker

The report proposes actions to encourage increased skills development in SMEs, including government and private sector support for upskilling workers.

The Chamber said to ensure participation any training program implemented needed to:

  • Make it clear: provide small businesses with a clear route into the world of skills development through relevant guidance and tools, in clear and simple language, housed in one area.
  • Make it easy: help to reduce complexity for small businesses to free up more time to invest in skills development.
  • Make it relevant: design courses around demand linked to real challenges faced by businesses in certain sectors and find ways to reduce costs of implementation.
  • Make it motivating: motivate employees and companies by showing them the benefits of training and demonstrating the return on investment of developing skills.

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